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“What is your perception of living in the cloud?”

AUTHOR: Eric Ledyard

In the engagement I was on last week, one of the most thought-provoking questions we presented to the Sr. IT management team was: “What is your perception of living in the cloud and where do you think your challenges/improvements will be?” The feedback that we got from them made me think that they were not unique in their viewpoints and that most customers that are on the ‘roadmap to the cloud’ are going to face very similar challenges. I wanted to capture their comments and share them because they are a fairly progressive organization and the information we gathered was very insightful into what was ‘front of mind’ for them.


In order to protect their identity, I can only provide a very high level of what the organization looked like, but effectively, they were a centralized IT organization that provides services to multiple subsidiary business groups. One of their primary goals for their future development is that they must be able to provide better services to their customers than Google/Amazon/Microsoft can provide. I am working on a blog post on that entire subject alone because in this space I am working in, this is the primary theme we are getting from every company we engage with. They were fully aware that they were already being measured by their subsidiaries on their ability to deliver services vs what is available in the market. One of their quotes was: “..we believe every one of our customers will say that we provide a very high quality of service, however, they will follow that by saying they wish we would deliver them faster.” Again, that statement alone could drive an entire blog post regarding IT transformation and what it really means to an organization, but it was a strong driver in their response to the question at hand. Each person in the group participated in the feedback and their answers are broken out below.


VP of Open Systems Infrastructure
“I think the biggest challenge that I perceive is changing our customer’s mindset about their infrastructure. Today, we get requests for a specific server with specific processors and memory in them and specific storage they think is the best to support their environment. The challenge is to get them to change their perception of how they receive IT services. They should not care what the infrastructure is behind their services because they should be abstracted into a service catalog. If the SLA's are met, the infrastructure should not matter to them. The other challenge is that some of the subsidiaries will have no issues with Multi-tenancy but others will not accept this without putting up a significant fight. The biggest benefits in my perception are better resource utilization, lower time to market, and being able to get to a service-catalog based environment with pre-defined tiers of service. Also, today our service request process is painful and slow and we need to get to a point where service request and delivery is on par with public cloud providers. Another big component is that none of the subsidiaries pay for their services from us today, so they do not understand the dynamics of what a request entails. We are looking forward to cloud in order to improve transparency through the use of a service catalog. Change and capacity management are other pieces that we need to improve and are hoping to get once we improve our service delivery model.”


VP of Application Development
“Standardization is still the biggest challenge for us currently and I fear it will be as we move forward into cloud. Also, we are challenged with how we will interoperate with other cloud service providers such as MS Azure. Getting all the subsidiaries to the same development platform seems like an impossible task. Also, we have to be fairly flexible in the ability to accommodate and integrate our COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) applications.”


Chief Security Officer
“Our challenges today exist because there is no set security standard for the entire organizational structure. Many subsidiaries that need higher security do not have it and many that think they need it do not. Post transformation, it would be much better for us because we could enforce the right levels of security for each subsidiary. Another strong benefit of cloud is that we will centralize and consolidate our security audit functions. This is a process today that takes an enormous amount of time and is highly inefficient. We have an education challenge for the subs in that we need to get them over the fear of multi-tenancy. Today, many of them will throw compliance interpretation in our face to resist being multi-tenant. I know that we have the ability to amend most of our compliance SLA’s and I feel we could significantly reduce our exposure to risk if we centralize our security model. One challenge we will face is that we will have to adapt our application certification process and procedures to fit our cloud methodology. Today, we have a very manual process and not much standardization. In the cloud model, we would be able to enforce application development standards that would allow us to certify applications much more efficiently.  


Chief Technology Officer
“We want to establish that we are the premiere service provider for our subsidiaries. We feel we can provide better services than any public cloud provider if we can change our core strategy for IT service delivery. It is important for us to map our IT services to the business. We need to educate our customers on what we offer and how we can help them and then tie a business justification for our services. If one of our customers feels they need to develop their applications to Azure, then they need to provide a strong business justification for why they are going to do that and how they are going to own their security and maintenance of those services. Another part of cloud is that we need to shut down datacenters that are not needed. Compute should be done centrally with a D.R. service offering that we can provide if a customer requests that level of service. A huge benefit of a service catalog and a cloud strategy is that we will be able to modify behavior by changing the way we provision services and charging those services back to the customer. We believe there won’t be many customers who will choose to implement a standalone dedicated physical infrastructure when they see that the time to market is 5-10X longer than our cloud-based offerings and when they see the costs associated with them. Capacity on demand is another benefit of cloud. Our ability to ramp services up and down and only charge business units for what they consume would be a substantial improvement over where we are today. Our goal is to take the quality of service we provide today and accelerate the time to market while reducing our operating costs and increasing our overall IT efficiency through the adoption of a cloud strategy.


My Conclusion
One of the biggest challenges in IT today is being able to quantify what people think “The Cloud” really is. I thought this IT organization had a very concise perspective on the key tenants of the cloud philosophy. Granted, this may just be because their understanding matches very closely what my own understanding of the industry is, but I still think they are on to something. Ultimately, they are very aware of the challenges ahead of them that exist in changing the people and process mechanics of their environment but they are working towards unifying their IT teams to work towards the common goals listed above. Much of their role in the near future is to educate their customers on the importance of pursuing this IT transformation motion and selling them on the value that will be gained through the effort. I definitely feel they have a large amount of strategic opportunities available to them and I think there are still some areas they have not even realized are there. For example, the application development team still hasn’t looked at next-generation application development frameworks and done any assessment of what the impact could be for them if they adopted them. They are, however, much farther down the path than many companies and have a strong sense of purpose as they move their projects forward.